Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ditch Proposal

By the time this article from the Sacramento Bee of July 19th is posted one hopes the proposal to set up another parks bureaucracy and raise taxes to fund it, has been withdrawn.

It wasn’t. The board instructed staff to bring back the legislation language—to give them the option to ask Sacramento County residents to increase the sales tax by a percentage smaller than allowed now—in August.

An excerpt.

“A grass-roots proposal to fix Sacramento County's troubled parks system appears headed for a setback today, despite months of research and fundraising by a citizens group that formed in response to a county request for help.

“At issue is control: Will the county continue to own and operate its 32 parks, or should it turn them over to a new agency?

“A coalition of park advocates, calling itself the Grassroots Working Group, in May urged the Board of Supervisors to support the latter approach: a new park district funded by a special sales tax.

“County staff members, however, will urge their bosses in a report today to put aside that idea and consider a variety of other options.

“The parks coalition came into being more than a year ago after the former county administrator asked for ideas on how Sacramento County could stanch the steady erosion of its parks system, which includes the treasured American River Parkway.

“Successive years of budget cuts have gutted parks staffing by a third, resulting in poor maintenance of county parkland and rising concerns about public safety. The county also owns 6,000 acres of parkland that have never been opened to the public or provide limited access.

“The group raised $53,000 to study the issue, and a county staff member sat on the committee. It concluded the best fix would be to create an independent regional park district, similar to the respected East Bay Regional Park District, which owns parks in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

“The group recommended funding for the special district come from a 0.1 percent sales tax increase in Sacramento County, which would raise $17 million annually. The group hired a pollster, which found that 73 percent of area voters would support an even larger increase.

“Current law does not allow counties to propose sales tax increases smaller than 0.25 percent. So the group also asked that the county seek state legislation allowing for a smaller increase. It wants local voters to consider a single ballot measure in November 2012 that would form and fund the district.

“Legislation also is needed to ensure that the county can remain in charge of the district's formation.

“The Board of Supervisors ordered its staff to spend two months studying the issue and produce a recommendation. That report comes before the board today at 3:15 p.m., and it calls for another 90 days of study.

“It does not reject the idea of an independent district, but it rejects the need for special legislation. It also calls on the board to consider other governance and funding options first.

"We don't think there is an urgency on state legislation," said Steve Szalay, interim county administrator. "Our view is that we should have a full discussion about revenue and operations before any decisions are made about what the governance should be."